American Veteran News 07.07.16

GOFUNDME PAGE SEEKS $500K FOR BLUE ANGELS PILOT’S FAMILY — S&S — A family member for the widowed wife of the Blue Angels pilot who died in a plane crash in June has started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for his remaining family.

On June 2, Jeff Kuss crashed his F/A-18 fighter jet near Nashville, Tennessee, his death left behind his wife Christina Kuss along with a 4-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter.

Back in his hometown of Durango, Colorado, Nicole Perino, sister of Christina, quickly set up a charity fund through the website

In a little over a month, the fund has already gained nearly $375,000 and has a goal of $500,000.

KOREAN WAR VETERAN, 86, RECEIVES HIGHEST CIVILIAN HONOR — S&S — An 86-year-old Korean War veteran received the Congressional Gold Medal during a bedside ceremony last month at Fort Sam Houston’s San Antonio Military Medical Center.

“Not many people receive this medal; I feel very proud,” Staff Sgt. Jose Diaz-Rivas said as he accepted the nation’s highest civilian award, according to an Army statement.

He served with the 65th Infantry Regiment “Borinqueneers,” a Puerto Rico-based Army unit that distinguished itself during the Korean War, fighting in nine of 10 campaigns during the conflict. Soldiers assigned to the regiment received 2,771 Purple Hearts, 606 Bronze Stars, 256 Silver Stars, 10 Distinguished Service Crosses and a Medal of Honor for their heroism in Korea, the statement said.

The entire unit received the honor on April 13 in Washington D.C., but failing health prevented Diaz-Rivas from attending the ceremony. His family and friends thought a medal in the mail wouldn’t be good enough, though, and Col. Jeffrey Johnson, commander of Brooke Army Medical Center, agreed to present the award in person.

IMAGE RELEASED IN PROBE OF DEFACED VIETNAM WAR MEMORIAL — AP — LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County authorities have released a security camera image of a man suspected of defacing a Vietnam War memorial in the Venice area.

City News Service reports Wednesday that a sheriff’s graffiti investigator was able to identify some of the tags left by the vandal in May.

Detectives suspect the man in the image is the tagger who calls himself NONER and is known to police around Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Rewards totaling $30,000 have been offered as the investigation continues.

Extensive graffiti was spotted covering a large portion of the homespun memorial painted on a block-long wall of Pacific Avenue. The memorial lists the names of American service members missing in action or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Painted by a Vietnam veteran and dedicated in 1992, it declares, “You are not forgotten.”

WYCKOFF FIREFIGHTER HELPS BURY REMAINS OF UNCLAIMED VETERANS — WYCKOFF PATRCH — WYCKOFF, N.J. — The remains were unclaimed and abandoned. Stephen Kopshaw made sure they were not forgotten.

Kopshaw is a township firefighter who helped bury the remains of six veterans with full military honors Thursday. They were left unclaimed and abandoned for decades. He volunteered to help the Mission of Honor for Cremains of American Veterans bring their remains to the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown. The non-profit has previously buried the remains of 203 unclaimed veterans and reunited another 272 with their families.

Kopshaw was also part of the 21-gun salute squad honoring the veterans. Three of them fought in World War II: Thomas English Jr., James Walls, and Richard Mower. Leroy Thomas Jr. and William Ellis served during the Vietnam War. Robert Sinn served during the Korean War.

“It was a humbling, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Kopshaw said. “It’s sad to think of anyone abandoned with no family left to take care of you at the end of your life. That these are war veterans moved me even more.”

PARALYZED VETERANS OF AMERICA URGES CAUTIOUS CONSIDERATION OF COMMISSION ON CARE REPORT — FINANCIAL CONTENT — Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) today reacted to the Commission on Care report that offers a wide-ranging discussion on the delivery of veteran health care. The proposal somewhat mirrors the community care consolidation plan developed by the VA and the recommendations of The Independent Budget, which is co-authored by Paralyzed Veterans, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). However, despite affirmation of the importance of VA’s specialized services, such as spinal cord injury and disease care, the report does not consider the consequences of incentivizing more veterans to seek care in the community. Paralyzed Veterans cautions policymakers on the one-size-fits-all approach of the proposal.

NEW LAW AIMED AT PREVENTING FEMALE VETERAN SUICIDES — MILCOM — Obama signed the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act into law.

The law, which was introduced by Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA), was cosponsored by 18 Democrats and 5 Republicans, and passed both houses of Congress without exception.

VA researchers have found that suicides among women veterans increased by 40 percent from 2000 to 2010, and that women veterans were nearly six times as likely as non-veteran women to commit suicide. This law directs the VA to identify mental health care and suicide prevention programs that are most effective and have the highest satisfaction rates for women veterans. These findings will be reported back to Congress and used to develop mental health treatment programs that are best tailored to assist at-risk individuals, be they male or female.

REPORT ON VA CALLS FOR NETWORK OF PUBLIC-PRIVATE CARE PROVIDERS — S&S — A long-awaited report released Wednesday on the nation’s troubled veterans’ health care system recommends 18 "bold" changes, including creating a new network of public-private care providers, to address the crippling wait times and other problems at Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Commission on Care called its report a “foundation for far-reaching organizational transformation,” yet two members of the task force issued their own scathing dissent, saying the recommendations don’t go nearly far enough to fix a failed system that needs a sweeping overhaul.

Debate over reform at the VA has been growing in the two years since the discovery of long appointment wait times revealed a pattern of data manipulation and poor access for veterans at VA medical centers across the country. Since then, promised reform has sparked volatile discussion. Controversial calls to close the VA and offer veterans privatized care, supported by the two dissenting commissioners, prompted unified opposition from major veterans organizations and sparked street protests by unionized VA workers.

The report submitted to VA Secretary Bob McDonald and President Barack Obama did not go that far, but it did identify a troubled system. The 15-member commission, created by Congress in the wake of the wait times scandal, found that despite billions of dollars spent to improve the sprawling health care system, the VA is still failing to provide adequate access to high-quality care. It suffers from flawed leadership, inadequate staffing, procurement problems and an antiquated IT system.

VETERANS WITH PTSD COULD GET HELP FROM FURRY FRIENDS — WASHINGTON EXAMINER — Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder soon may have canine help.

Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., on Wednesday introduced the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members Act, or the PAWS Act.

The legislation, which has bipartisan support in the House and Senate, would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide service dogs to patients suffering from PTSD.

The VA estimates that between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan exhibit symptoms of PTSD in any given year. PTSD is difficult to cure, though, and many veterans do not seek treatment.

GROUP CRITICIZES VA COMMISSION FOR FAILING TO VOTE ON RECOMMENDATIONS — MILCOM — A veterans group is criticizing as inadequate the work of a congressional commission that concluded the Veterans Affairs Department still has “profound deficiencies” in delivering health care.

The Concerned Veterans for America, an Arlington, Virginia-based organization that advocates for greater choice in veteran health care providers, described the panel — of which it was a part — as “broken,” in part for failing to vote on its own recommendations.

“Basically we … have a broken commission, and because of a broken commission we have a broken report,” said Darin Selnick, senior veterans affairs adviser for organization, which hosted a teleconference on Wednesday after the release of the panel’s report.

Selnick, who served on the commission, participated in the teleconference with Stewart Hickey, a fellow commissioner and former executive director for AMVETS, and Dan Caldwell, vice president for political action at the Concerned Veterans for America.

WEST POINT CADET EARNS SOLDIER’S MEDAL FOR HIS DYING ACT — ARMY TIMES — On Independence Day, Tom Surdyke would have turned 19 years old. Instead, friends, family and classmates mourned and buried the cadet at West Point. Surdyke posthumously received the Soldier’s Medal, the highest non-combat valor award in the Army, for saving a life with actions that ultimately cost his own.

During a one-week break between air assault and cadet field training, Surdyke was vacationing at a beach on Long Island, New York, on June 24 when he and a civilian he’d only met that day got pulled out to sea in a riptide.

“Without regard for his own safety, Cadet Surdyke immediately grabbed the civilian and physically assisted in keeping the civilian’s head above water until help could arrive,” his Soldier’s Medal citation reads. “Before becoming overcome by exhaustion, Cadet Surdyke managed to push the civilian up, enabling a bystander on a paddle board to pull him out of the water, thereby saving the civilian’s life.

NEW EFFORT AT VA TO HALT DOCTOR SHOPPING FOR PAIN MEDS — MILITARY TIMES — The Veterans Affairs Department figures prominently in a new push by the Obama administration to curtail the nationwide opioid and heroin epidemic.

President Obama called on Congress Wednesday to spend $1.1 billion to fund new efforts to stem prescription drug abuse and encourage patients to seek treatment, including a new policy at VA that will require doctors to check state prescription monitoring databases before prescribing a controlled substances to a patient.

The policy, designed to keep patients from doctor shopping for painkillers, will require physicians to check the databases at least once a year and when a patient requires a refill.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 28,000 Americans died from opioid or heroin overdoses in 2014, and at least half the deaths involved prescription medication.

AFTER VA FAILURE, NEARLY 25,000 VETERANS ELIGIBLE FOR NEW BRAIN EXAMS — WJHL — UNICOI, TN – Nearly 25,000 veterans across the United States, including hundreds in Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, received improper traumatic brain injury exams, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a result of policy confusion, the federal agency says from 2007 through 2015, in some cases, unqualified specialists performed TBI exams.

“We let these Veterans down,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said last month. “That is why we are taking every step necessary to grant equitable relief to those affected to ensure they receive the full benefits to which they are entitled.”

Since the VA likely misdiagnosed some veterans, the government isn’t fully compensating or treating some of those veterans for their injuries. As a result of a national review, the agency is sending out letters nationwide to the veterans affected. The VA confirms 2,992 of those people are from North Carolina, 818 are from Virginia and 309 are from Tennessee.

VA Deputy Undersecretary David McLenachen said although the agency found 24,800 veterans who are potentially impacted, the number is “over-inclusive to make sure that we’re being fair.”

ARTILLERY CREWMAN RECOGNIZED TWICE FOR HEROISM — REDSTONE ROCKET — When Vietnam veteran Larry Wyenandt was inducted into the Madison County Hall of Heroes in 2012, his daughters cried when they learned of his wartime service for the first time.

He’d never talked about Vietnam since returning home during an era of antimilitary sentiment. But that changed with his induction into the hall for combat veterans cited for valor.

“It was like you’re finally welcomed home,” the Madison resident said.

Wyenandt served in the Mekong Delta from December 1968 until December 1969. He was chief of a gun section for C Battery, 9th Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, 4th Artillery. He arrived in Tan Tru from Germany as a 19-year-old specialist and was promoted to sergeant.

“Like being in jail. You knew you had to be there for a year,” Wyenandt said. “Nowhere to go. And you knew you had to protect your butt because you had nowhere to hide.”

VETERAN OF 2 WARS TURNS 100 IN SCARBOROUGH — THE FORECASTER — SCARBOROUGH — A veteran of both World War II and the Korean War celebrated his 100th birthday Tuesday.

Thomas Ewing, who has been a resident of the Maine Veterans’ Home for a little more than a year, was lauded for his military service at a centennial celebration attended by town officials and elected representatives, including U.S. Sen. Angus King, Gov. Paul LePage, state Sen. Amy Volk, state Rep. Heather Sirocki, and Fire Chief Michael Thurlow.

Ewing was born in Millinocket in 1916 and raised in West Enfield. He married in 1941, and he and his wife, Lillian, had three children.

His family followed him to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he was stationed during WWII.

LIES THEY TELL TRANSITIONING VETERANS: YOU ARE A HERO, YOU ARE A LOSER — MILCOM — When I was a young Marine battalion intelligence officer during the mid-Eighties, we used to joke that every “threat briefing” would depict the Soviets and their allies as either undefeatable supermen or pathetic losers. One day, they would show pictures of (the Swedish actor) Dolph Lundgren as a Spetsnaz super warrior and emphasize the 5:1 ratio of their tanks or fighter aircraft to ours as if to underscore our hopelessness in any future conflict. The next time, the intelligence briefers would tell us not to worry because most Soviet units did not even know where they were on the battlefield because the unit alcoholics would have drained all the fluid from their compasses. Likewise, the intelligence analysts speculated that the non-Russian Soviet units would defect and refuse to fight when the first bullets were fired. It was all very confusing and, in retrospect, downright amusing given the extremes. We assumed then, as we do now, that reality was somewhere in between those opposite poles.

CALIFORNIA WOMEN VETERANS LEADERSHIP COUNCIL ESTABLISHED — OAKDALE LEADER — As the country celebrates its 240th year of independence, Americans remember our men and women who have served in the Armed Forces to protect and secure the very freedoms our founders sought in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

Women are now and have always been an important part of securing our freedoms. Two million women nationwide, and 170,000 women in California served in the Armed Forces. However, many do not identify as Veterans. For this reason and others, women are not inclined to access the state and federal Veterans benefits they earned at the same rates as their male counterparts. According to a Veterans Affairs (VA) Women’s Health program overview, the VA has found that women Veterans underutilize VA care, largely due to a lack of knowledge about VA benefits and available services and their eligibility to them. Women also experience gaps in services as cited in a women Veteran study conducted by Disabled American Veterans (DAV), which found current reintegration services fail to embrace alternative family structures.

NEW ORLEANS-AREA ‘FACES’ OF VIETNAM WAR SOUGHT — NOLA — Isabel Acosta Berrigan was only 14 years old the day she learned that her big brother, Marine Lance Cpl. James Arthur Acosta Jr., was killed in the Vietnam War.

Even though its been almost five decades since that fateful day when two uniformed marines knocked on the front door of her family’s home on St. Maurice Avenue in the lower 9th Ward with the news of Acosta’s death, the searing pain of his loss lingers.

“When I went to the door and saw the two Marines, I knew why they were there,” said Berrigan, who now lives in Metairie. “And when I heard them tell my mother and father that Bubby (family nickname for Acosta) was dead, I was crushed. My mother was devastated, and my father became very silent.”

Acosta was on his second tour of duty in Vietnam and in the third year of his four year enlistment with the Marines when he died July 15, 1968. Acosta died from knife wounds while engaged in hand-to-hand combat with North Vietnamese troops in the Quang Nam Province.

“My brother loved being a Marine, and he volunteered for Vietnam,” Berrigan said. “He dropped out of Francis T. Nicholls High School when he was 17, so he could join the Marines. He cared about his country, and he wanted to serve it.”

INDIANA VETERANS BIND TOGETHER TO HELP SOLDIERS READJUST — AP — TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — As a cavalry scout, Dustin Everhart was the “eyes and ears” of the U.S. Army, keeping his comrades up to date on battlefield conditions.

Years after returning home, Everhart is among a group of local veterans working to open a resource center where retired military personnel would help former soldiers readjust to the civilian world.

Such a place, he said, would’ve helped him manage a post-combat life that was complicated by a failing marriage, lack of strong employment skills and illegal drugs.

“And knowing at this point I could give back to guys that are way worse off than I ever was… has given me a feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment that only God can provide,” said Everhart, who served in the military from 1999-2003.

Dubbed “Community Outpost Lazarus,” the resource center is the next mission of the Faithful Veteran Guide Detachment Ministry at Terre Haute United Methodist Temple.

Members are finishing their latest pig hunting trip in Texas, four-day excursions geared toward building camaraderie and allowing veterans to put their combat training to practical use.

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